When I was a boy – and by that I mean a younger version of myself.
I don’t mean to imply that I’ve ever identified otherwise…
I was a massive Queen fan – and by that I mean I really enjoyed the music of Queen, I wasn’t the overweight monarchist I was in my early thirties…
In fact I was unhealthily underweight… but that’s not the point.
Too young to really understand the politics of sexuality that were breaking into popular culture and too young to appreciate some of the other wonders of my parents record collection, I would listen (much as I do now) to the same tracks over and over and over again.
Now that I’ve passed my 4th full decade on this plane, I realise I don’t listen to Queen nearly so much… hell, I don’t listen to them at all unless they pop up on the radio or a movie or television soundtrack.
I still enjoy their music; I still respect the lyrics and I still find relevance in their songs… I just don’t listen to them any more.
I can cheer a dour or humourless day by singing along to King’s of the Wild Frontier or This Woman’s Work but hardly ever consider News of the World, with it’s thought provoking and melancholy murderous mecha-cover.
I don’t even own any of their albums (outside of A Kind of Magic – which I’m listening to as I type this – and their 3rd greatest hits album)… which is a crying shame considering the joy that Queen brought me in my youth.
With that as a backdrop and the scene set, I would like to narrate thoughts that arose following a brief workplace discussion regarding one of Queen’s actual “greatest” hits – “I Want to Break Free“…
A week ago, one of my web developers took it upon themselves to tidy our corner of the open plan office; the usual cleaner was off sick and this chap enjoys a tidy environment.
As my colleague set about looking for the office vacuum cleaner, another colleague remarked upon the how good the cleanliness-obsessed colleague would look dressed as Freddie Mercury in the music video of the song in question.
Our tidy-colleague (at the tender age of 21 and not being a fan of western music) had not heard the song… cue the whole team trying to explain the song, the video and their own interpretation of the song’s meaning.
It is well known that the video is influenced by the allegedly popular mancunian soap opera, Coronation Street, but the lyrics belie a potentially darker meaning.
The music video implies a need to break away from the tedium of domestic drudgery but the song itself appears to detail the death of a relationship and the potential rebirth of a new sexual adventure.
As colleagues argued that video was a possible allegory for domestic abuse, my own thoughts were drawn to the demonisation of Freddie’s sexuality in the press.
Granted, Freddie’s homosexuality was not the village-bell that it became more and more hammered in the months preceding his death but it was something of a stigma that he carried and it must have influenced his music, even then.
In the retrospective light of 2016, the song seems to me to be a heartfelt musing over the dichotomy faced by the lovers of the 1980s gay scene… Freddie, the protagonist of our song, falls in love with the love his life but at the same time feels trapped and yearns for the freedom offered by a promiscuous lifestyle or polyamorous relationship.
But then, having contemplated moving on and away from his love, our protagonist contemplates a reality without any love and so settles for what he has… still yearning for to break away to grass that appears greener and yet seems so barren at the same time.
Quite a sad song really.
Freddie died 25 years ago; in my memory his death became a media circus and a baton beaten in the war against AIDS; I often wonder what the world would be like had Freddie not died.
25 years on and the world is a very different place.
Wider societies opinions on sexuality and gender have progressed for the most part and the music industry has undergone numerous revolutions.
I’d like to think that Freddie would still be recording now, if not alone, in collaboration with his peers and the younger generation.
Can you imagine the frenzy surrounding a boy-band collaboration between Freddie, Bowie and Jagger in the 21st century? Throw in Elton John and I think you would probably be able to call it a day – no need for any further pop music shenanigans…
Or maybe Freddie Mercury and Justin Timberlake?
Erm… I think I need the bathroom… Nurse?